Picture of How to Pan For Gold
As if I needed yet another hobby, I got interested in gold prospecting several years ago. My travels around the West often took me to old mining towns and mine sites where the pioneers had made a living by pulling the yellow stuff out of the ground. Eventually I got the bug too. Gold fever is a terrible thing. There is no known cure. It leads you to work harder on your vacations than you do in your normal working life, and all you have to show for is a little dirty, yellow metal.

The principal behind gold panning is really simple. Gold is heavy. Just about everything else is lighter. If you load a pie-pan shaped container with gold-bearing gravel and sand, proper agitation in water should cause the gold to sink to the bottom, while washing away the lighter stuff that rises to the top. Eventually, all that is left in your pan is the heaviest minerals, including (hopefully) some gold. It really is about that simple. Of course there is more to the story than that.

More photos and details can be found on my web site at http://www.mdpub.com/prospecting/

Step 1: Equipment Needed for Gold Paning

Picture of Equipment Needed for Gold Paning
First off, you are going to need some equipment. This photo shows about the bare minimum of equipment you need to be a successful gold panner. I bought a lot of my equipment on Ebay. The rest came from the hardware store. None of it is difficult to find or terribly expensive.

Start with the water-proof boots. Gold panning is done in the water, usually icy cold mountain streams. You'll want to keep your feet dry. Some nice warm socks (maybe a couple of pairs) also helps to keep your feet warm in that cold water.

The green thing is the gold pan. There are lots of different types of gold pans. They all work. so don't spend too much time obsessing over getting just the right kind of pan. I buy my gold pans on Ebay since there is nobody near me that stocks them, and it is usually the cheapest place to buy them.

Inside the gold pan is the sniffer bottle. It is used for sucking up little bits of gold out of your pan. More on that later.

The purple thing is a classifier, also known as a sieve or strainer. It is really optional, but I find it to be a great help. I'll talk about why later.

Next, you need some digging tools. A full-size pointed shovel will be real useful (remember what I said about this being hard work?). You'll also want a smaller spade and either an old screwdriver or some other skinny tool for cleaning out small cracks and crevasses in the rocks.

The small white plastic pail is used for collecting concentrates. You can use just about any sort of container for that. More on why this is important later.

Big five gallon buckets come in handy for lots of things. I usually carry several. You can pack a lot of the other equipment in them along with some water bottles and other supplies, and carry it all down to the creek. Once there, a bucket makes handy stool to sit on in the creek to do your panning and another serves to carry your paydirt from where you are digging it to where you are panning it.

Other nice to have accessories are gloves. A nice pair of rugged leather gloves to protect your hands from blisters while working the shovel and protect from cuts and scrapes while digging out cracks and crevasses with the smaller digging tools. Also a pair of rubber gloves to protect your hands from the cold water while panning. Also, a pair of tweezers to pick the larger bits of gold "pickers" out of your gold pan, and a glass or plastic bottle to put them in will come in real handy.

Naturally you'll want to take all the usual stuff you would take for any outdoor adventure in the wilderness. Things like a first aide kit, warm clothes, drinking water, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, etc.
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nudim26 days ago

very nice idea ... good job

KellyKandy3 months ago

Excellent ideas here, well done

shabbokamli4 months ago

supperrbb Idea

Great plan, do you know of any gold places in the UK?

you gotaa look for them

great advice

boom man562 years ago
Where do I get the sand?

I am also have same problem with you. I can't find that sand.

Is this still a viable option to make some dough? Where in the US is there still gold to be had?

Hi Curated Quotes. I can't give you a detailed answer to your question because I have no experience and I don't live in the States. But panning for gold is very popular right now and I hear people are finding lots of it.

As for making some dough, you won't likely find enough to get rich, so don't quit your day job. But you might make a couple hundred bucks now and then.

As for where to find gold, your best bet is to go where the gold is. Like the author of this Instructable said, find a place that has a history of producing "placer gold". The most gold is still found where it always has been, since the gold rush days. Do an Internet search for "gold panning in_____", whatever place you want to go, and see what turns up. Also, look for local clubs, or check with the geology department at a nearby college maybe.... Again, I don't live in the States so I really don't know how things work there. Just be mindful of your local laws and make sure you don't trespass or start digging on land you aren't allowed to dig on. Also, there may be limits on how much you are allowed to mine without a permit, and restrictions regarding environmental impact in certain areas.

Great info, thanks for sharing. It definitely sounds like hard work, something I am allergic to, but might be willing to endure if I knew it would pay off. I am too far away from any good prospecting areas to make it worthwhile at the moment. Also, it is prohibited by law here to sell anything you find if you are just doing it as a hobby (here being Ontario, Canada).

I was just doing some research because my husband has been watching "Gold Rush" on TV and has a slight case of gold fever at the moment. I thought it might be fun to go out panning sometime. And also a good way to cure him of the fever. Once he sees how much work it takes to get a few little specks of gold, he won't be so interested anymore.

Gutterclean12 months ago

Wow, awesome.

danmellow1 year ago

very nice collection :-)

CxXxC5 years ago
I have a question I live by an old mine tailings and wonder ing ig there would be any gold in there

Metal detect, use a garden rake, pull down an inch or so and run your detector over it. Also pan washes leading away from tailings piles. Floating dredge tailings lost small gold but also lost big nuggets due to the size classifications they were after. Mine tailings could be rock piles waiting to be run through the stamp mill. I know where a huge pile of quartz rocks is in the woods that assey's at a 1/4 ounce per ton. A rock crusher can make you some gold in such a situation.

thepelton CxXxC5 years ago
Probably, but not guaranteed. The old miners 150 years ago were more interested in the individual nuggets (2mm or larger) than in the dust, and would pass up or even throw away stuff we would love to get today. You would probably be finding gold dust.
=///////===============> - How much can You buy an Ol' Huntin' Rifle for...HAR.!
What that doesn't make sence
You can only find in those old Tailings ==> "Whatever You can Get" > = FIND..?.! An OLD Saying. I've looked at those Old Tailings too, didn't have the "time".. tho. A company did go thru the Gold Tailings of a played out mine just out of town here, It kept a crew with machenery, Back Hoe, "Sluce Mill", Etc, at work for a couple years or so. In the 70's. The Brook Trout tasted fine all the while, and still do.
Foxtrot70 CxXxC5 years ago
I would think the tailings would have some product in it as to how much is another question should be more than chancing shovel fulls of dirt from a stream. The problem(s) I see might be: securing permissions to gain entry to the property, what percentage, if any, the land owner would expect; liability insurance, etc. Don't mean to throw a damper on things just some items for thought.
woody5583 years ago

Besides the ridges, the pan looks just like a plate. Would it be possible to pan for gold with a plate or maybe even a pie tin???

The 49er's had no riffles. Supposedly Chines miners beat riffles into theirs . My first gold pan was a wok. In South America they carve pans from wood with no riffles. They call them batea's.(floating wood is a good idea) Gold pans are cheap and easy to find today. I saw some the other day at Cabella's store. Ebay,Keene engineering and GPAA are some online sources. My favorite pan is the Keene SP14. I never liked classifiers. Too much to carry when "suspecting or gold". (Big ten) makes great maps to put you on the gold. You will find gold with a pie tin if it's there.

this wont get you much because most of the gold on the surface was grabbed during the gold rush

I have over 20 years experience prospecting and mining. Only a fraction of the gold on the surface has been gotten. And more washes out of the Earth every day.
The "gold rushes" were a funny thing. They boomed up and quickly died out as rumors of new richer ground came up. The East coast stopped mining gold during the Civil war after free slave labor ended. Then mining picked up after the great depression. Only to be stopped by WW II by law and loss of workers. The price of gold prevented another "gold rush" until recently when gold shot to 1800 an ounce.
I can go right now and pan a nugget or 2 in a few minutes at a creek that has been heavily mined. I could dredge an ounce in a week from this same played out creek.
There's plenty of gold still out there. And very few willing to work to recover it.

not true gold resurculates and there is just as much gold on the surface now then there was in the gold rush
that is true

Thanks for the post. Gold prospecting is the best hobby I ever had. (I've had plenty) When roaming around looking for the best color I'd carry only my SP14 gold pan, a pointed shovel and a sucker or snuffer bottle with a string tied around it so it hangs just below mid chest.
I'd move quick sampling every place that looked good. Some of my best gold was found where there shouldn't be any. (rivers shift course) Make sure to get to thick clay and gravel. But break up the clay well. (grey or blue clay in my area is best)
Some say the surface gold is gone. This is a myth. over 80% of it remains undiscovered and replenishing areas previously thought to be played out.
It's hard work. But if you like fishing, you'll love gold prospecting. (Don't ignore the treasure found in swimming holes either.) Good luck and God bless.

Sorry if I'm resurrecting a dead thread, but how would you fare selling the native gold on the scrap market?
Schmidty163 years ago
sluicin gis easier
Schmidty163 years ago
there need to be more prospectors on here
The one thing you'll learn about panning for gold is once you start it's hard to quit. I have found it to be relaxing and a definite escape from hustle and bustle of the concrete work world where all your stress resides. Take your family and enjoy the outdoors as we have somehow forgotten our roots. We began in the wild and to the wild we should return if only to help repair the damage we have done over time. Speaking of damage, when you do visit the outdoors always leave it cleaner than when you first arrived, everyone will appreciate it a lot more when they visit. When you begin as a novice, you can pick up tips from everyone and believe me everyone will happily tell you their way and there are many ways to accomplish the same task, get gold. By the way...less than 10% of all the gold on earth has been recovered so a LOT is still out there waiting you to find it and catch more of the gold fever! There is a wide variety of equipment to assist the modern day gold panner or 49'er such as pans with and without riffles. Pans that have built in concentrators, pans that are round, triangular, octoganal, metal, and plastic. Each pan must be cured before its use to reduce surface tension. You can use shovels, pick axes, suckers, there is a lot of specialized gear to use depending upon the situation. Concentrates for example can be recovered using all kinds of tools and techniques. If the idea of going out gold panning doesn't get you...the price of gold is over $900 an ounce. So if by chance you just get beginners luck and end up with a gold nugget near an ounce...that's a pretty good days work versus what you would have to do all week long at work. There are many benefits to gold panning of which the biggest is bringing the family together to have fun.
and also to you list of items... add a couple more empty buckets, they're not heavy and having an extra one either to sit on, carry other items, concentrates, trash collected and cleaned from the water/gravel/dirt, like lead sinkers, bullets, broken glass, plastic and rusty metal... not only helps the environment, but could also be worth a little money from recycling it.
about collecting concentrates to pan out later, another reason to work that way, is all the changes the government is trying to make about prospecting and being in the out doors in general. They're trying to make it more difficult and even illegal to prospect, So the less time your out there, the less time you have for a run in with egg headed eviromentalist or law enforcent, rangers or even fish and game officials, which have nothing to do with mining or even access to public lands.
moreforles6 years ago
While not an expert in any way shape or form, one thing I can suggest about prospecting is.... While out in gold bearing areas, process all the material you can, pan down to when you see mostly black sand, the empty your pan into a bucket, and finish panning it when you get back home and have more time. In theory, the more material you go through, the more gold your likely to find. If you don't happen to live near a gold rich area, in fact even if you do, gather all the concentrate you can. It doesn't matter if your using a gold pan, sluice box, high banker, trommel, dredge or metal detector, gather all the material you can while your out there.... And when at home or else where doing your finish panning, pan into a tub, save your concentrates, go through them again when your bored, there's a lot of gold still in it, even after you don't see it in your pan. Plus the black sand can be worth something in itself, from landscaping, shadow boxes, black sand hour glasses...etc. Also after the items already shown the next item you might want to add to your tools, is a metal detector, even a cheap one is better than none at all. but spend as much as you can afford, you can always get another, but if you get a decent one to start with, you can get a lot of use from it before you need to replace it. As for which one to get, I'm still wondering that myself.
I'm not an expert neither but I completely agree , no one would sleep that night thinking of gold gone back in the river while panning . The biggest part of the whole process is to find the spot and get rid of boulders, roots and gravel, wash away dirt and see the black magnetite and and red garnets concentrating . A good magnet, may be from an old hard disk, in some kind a plastic box will help quick checking for magnetite and get rid of it after. Anyway I keep that stuff because I want to melt it some day in some thermite mix Magnetite as garnet is just quite heavy that's all , you're not looking for iron ore but black sand is a good signal indeed in most areas. I suggest a high power goldsmith lens and a low power pocket microscope to examine very thin sediments and whatever.
Aron3133 years ago
Where do you live that you are getting the gold?
tnt.thomas5 years ago
No one worried about the environmental damage caused by panners going too far, adding silt to rivers? Hmmm, if I put up an 'ible about hunting I'd get run out on a rail. But silting up rivers, no big. Food for thought. Oh bit offended by flaming owl pic for a Canadian... I am Canadian... with lego robot as my pic. Should it be Molsons??? Pffft!
I am reading "The Forgotten North" by Coates and Morrison. Good example on a grand scale of how our mindset creates bias and suddenly if it is our behaviour, it is fine.

the amount of silt associated with this small scale of panning for gold is rediculously minute compared to other means of silt making its way down the river...such as surges from rain and snow (if applicable)
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